Pronunciation is an essential part of language learning, and needs to be tailored to the specific needs of the students you are teaching. Most English textbooks contain a lot of pronunciation work, but it s often generalised for any group of learners, so may not fit the pronunciation issues you hear in class. Here is a tried and tested procedure for identifying, planning an delivering pronunciation work that is relevant for your learners, and can be reused as you notice issues arising at different points in your courses.
Plan: listen to your students
The first step to knowing what your learners need is to listen carefully when they speak. In the course of a few lessons, pay special attention when they are speaking during tasks, and keep a notebook to record any mispronounced sounds, or oddly produced words and sentences. This can inform your planning of which pronunciation areas to focus on in following sessions.
If you are teaching a mixed-language group, not all of your learners might have the same issues, so look for problem sounds which come from speakers of different languages and prioritise those, before moving on to more individual issues. The ‘th’ pronunciations in English, for example, cause issues for speakers of many languages, so can be dealt with in a single session benefitting several students at once.
Plan: identify the main issues in pron
The next step is to identify exactly what is happening with your learners’ pronunciation. Is it a specific sound that some members of the group have problems with, or is there a broader issue with word stress, intonation, sentence rhythm or a pronunciation feature which affects phrases and sentences such as awkward sounding word boundaries?
Once you have pinned down the specific problem that you want to address, think of ways of putting the feature(s) into context. Brainstorming words which contain that sound can throw up a vocabulary or grammar area which you could focus on to teach the sounds. For example, if your learners have problems with the ’s’, ‘sh’ and ‘ch’ sounds, you could focus a lesson on beach vocabulary (shells, sea, shore, sand, ice-cream, etc.) or if they have problems with ’s’ and ‘z’, you could look at plural endings and how they sound on different nouns (the -s ending in words like ‘pens’, ‘bits’ and ‘pieces’). This will help you to contextualise the feature(s) you teach, and planning the lesson will be a lot easier.
Deliver: Present the sounds in context
When it comes to teaching the lesson, a pronunciation focus can be delivered using a simple PPP approach (present, practice, produce), as you would teach a grammar or vocabulary lesson, except with the pronunciation feature as the target item being taught. Start by setting an appropriate context (from the words and phrases you brainstormed in step 2), and get the students saying the words you selected in response to pictures or video prompts. This tests how much of an issue the sounds are, and gives you a good opportunity to start drilling and correcting the learners, showing them exactly how to form the sounds in their mouths.
To do this, start by giving a very clear model of the individual sound on its own, and get groups and individuals to repeat after you. If necessary, use your hands to model where and how the sounds are produced, whether you use your voice or not, etc. Visual reinforcement like this is really important to engage learners in the physical aspect of pronunciation, and shows them what to do to produce the problem sound correctly. Then, build up to drilling the full words that you presented in stage 1, and get more natural examples of words and phrases from everyone.
Deliver: Use peer practice tasks
Once you are happy with everyone’s pronunciation of the sounds in words, you can pass the work over to the students to start practising. One way of doing this is to set a paper task where students have to identify where the target sound is in a text. Write a short paragraph containing the words you have looked at, and ask students to circle where the sounds appear. Then, if they read the text aloud sentence by sentence, they will be more focused on the specific sounds where they appear.
Another pronunciation practice activity is peer dictation, where students dictate words or phrases to a partner, who must identify which word they hear. Using minimal pairs (pairs of words which only differ in a single target sound, for example ‘Sue’s / shoes’ or ‘think / sink’ for this is really effective, as the listener must hear the correct word as well as the speaker pronouncing it clearly. This promotes peer discussion about the words being spoken and heard, and students naturally start correcting each other, working towards an agreed way of saying the word (and therefore the sound) clearly.
Deliver: Get the students producing the sound independently
After some practice of the sound, the students should be able to create their own ideas using the words (and sounds) which you have taught. For this, you can get them to write mini-stories or presentations to tell to a partner. While one student is telling their story, their partner can be an active listener, noting down any words which are not so clear to highlight to their partner and give extra support at the end of the class.
This routine of planning and delivery can be repeated every few weeks to ensure that students stay focused on their pronunciation, and know that each of them will get support when you gather enough evidence of need to put another lesson together.
If you want to develop your pronunciation teaching further, Language Point delivers the internationally recognised RQF level 5 Trinity CertTESOL in a totally online mode of study, and the RQF level 6 Trinity College Certificate for Practising Teachers, a contextually-informed teacher development qualification with specific courses which focus on online language education or online methodology.
If you are interested to know more about these qualifications, or you want take your teaching to a new level with our teacher education courses, contact us or visit our CertTESOL FAQ and CertPT FAQ pages for details.